THE LONG WAY HOME
ACROSS THE BARREN SOUTHWEST
ACROSS THE BARREN SOUTHWEST
I couldn’t have picked a more wicked route across the southwest of the US if I tried to punish myself purposefully. However, I must admit that when I began booking the US tour I had never envisioned it being (1) so damn long time-wise, or (2) so damn long distance-wise. So I gave first-come-first-serve precedence to those people that contacted me in order to set up an event. And, well, that is the story of the last three nights that have had us covering thousands of miles and sleeping many a night in the car.
If you have a map handy you can do the math: San Diego, CA to Las Vegas, NV (6hrs) then to Pheonix, AZ (9hrs), then to Salt Lake City, UT (roughly 10hrs), to Denver, CO (roughly 8hrs), and tomorrow to Austin, TX (12hrs).
I admit that there are a lot of other towns where we could have gone, or a lot of ways one could have juggled the towns that we did have confirmed, or we could have even simply contacted individuals from my MySpace or FaceBook lists and went directly to their houses (and gotten more shots), but, well, I didn’t do it that way. I did it the way that I did it, accepting it, and moving on with my √life.
Once upon a time I was in this little band called Railhed. We were this tiny four-piece band out of Newark, DE, and one summer we went on tour (I think that it was 1991) with two much bigger bands; World’s Collide and No Escape. I must admit that I enjoyed the fuck out of our days playing with those other bands, but the point of the story is not a recount of that tour. The point of the story, and I cannot remember why we did it like this, but we only played from the East Coast to the West Coast, and after our show in Thousand Oaks, CA (a small suburb of southern Los Angeles) we drive the rest of the way home to Delaware straight through in like 30 hours.
By all accounts we did that drive faster than anybody could have anticipated much due to the fact that me and our guitar player (and now good friend, haha) Mark McKinney, took these long-ass night shifts across route 40, and were able to squeeze nearly 100mph out of our little wagon the entire time. The result, a quick trip home. The trip home didn’t come without its weird personal legacy for me in that we had covered 3 time zones in two days, and I had to sleep myself into oblivion to make it back to East Coast time. It was a radical mess by all accounts, but two days later I was either working for my father trying to make money to sustain me through my last year of college, or I was enrolled in a college class.
The next year Railhed broke up after her gig in St. Louis, MO, must before we took off to go south, and so I didn’t get to see the southwest again until 1997 when I toured with my friends from Columbus, OH, in a band called Ambassador 990. In a rather interesting twist of events, we played more or less the same cities that Stefan and I have hit over the past week, but it didn’t seem like this much driving, but I guess that it was, and I think that we did it in the reverse order too. Anyway, what I am saying here is that, okay, I could have planned better but based on what I remember from my past tours the dates didn’t seem so wonkie in terms of travel, and now I am finding out once again that both Stefan and I are going to return home fucking mega-exhausted.
After all of this time I still don’t equate “Las Vegas” and “people living in some US city” at all. Vegas seems like some place where robotic automatons deal cards, clean up tables, serve food, dance, sing, rob, steal, and recreate, and have replaced human beings. But, well, I’d be lying if I didn’t meet some living and breathing Las Vegas residents.
Early on the Reverend Rob Rukkus had learned of the book from his NYC contemporaries (and Barred For Life friends) at Double Down Saloon NYC. He was on board faster than I could say, “Am I really gonna quit my job and tour the US for this book..?” So, yeah, Rukkus was on board almost immediately, and curiously I still haven’t met this mystery man. Rukkus, strangely not at the shoot even though he is rumored as having some pretty big Bars tattooed on him somewhere, had found his way to San Fran to see a show, and so his Double Down crew graciously allowed for us to set up shop and shoot Barred folks for a few hours.
Prior to the shoot I was asked to participate on a radio show that takes place every Friday night from their stage at 8pm, and so after Stefan and I traversed the UNLV campus in search of food from Cappriotti’s (a Delaware based sandwhich company best known for their vegetarian and vegan sandwhiches), we returned to Double Down and set up shop.
Competing for space with the radio show, we managed to fire off about five or six folks in rapid succession before I got called on stage to rap with the DJ about the project. A minute later it was all over. I was free to go. It was somewhat anticlimactic.
After the initial group of Barred citizens we respectfully waited out Rukkus, both to shoot his photo for the book and to ask him for a place to stay, but Rukkus never materialized. So, after a text telling us that he wasn’t going to be able to make it to the shoot we saddled up the white Hyundai and got the fuck out of Vegas. Honestly, I just couldn’t stand the glow of that town any longer. That place is 24 hours of electricity burning out of control and I just wanted to get on the road.
A hundred or so miles into our drive, me behind the wheel (and sleeping behind it for who knows how long), we slept at our first gas station of the trip; mostly because this had been the first place where we didn’t score accommodations and the temps were warm enough to sleep in relative comfort.
Getting into Phoenix in the early afternoon, the promoter called to tell us that a local “PUNK ROCK” owned tattoo shop called Golden Rule was giving The Bars at a reduced price, and that we were allowed to shoot there. So we high-tailed it to Golden Rule where Stefan and I wandered the city in different directions before returning to shoot a fella getting some pretty tricky bars in the shaped of the state of Iowa.
Others would come in and take advantage of the reduced price of the bars, but we would not be there to photograph them. We would be at Jughead’s Bar where we would be shooting pix while the band BLACK FAG would be rocking BLACK FLAG covers while dressed in full DRAG of some sort or another.
Soon after setting up my lighting the amazing folks from BLACK FAG asked if I would shoot pix of them in a “professional way” and I obliged them. They changed into stage clothes and returned to the stage where I had am amazingly difficult time wrangling them into a decent pose conducive to making them look serious. Finally I managed to sneak off about 10 shots of them that blew me away.
We shot about 8 or 9, or maybe even 10 folks there before jumping in the car and racing off to Salt Lake City. What stood out to me about that night, besides how hard our host at Jughead’s Bar pushed people to come out to be photographed, was that BLACK FAG blew me away. Here are all of these folks dressed up as the variety of perceived “gay” stereotypes, and they played Black Flag songs in and evil and aggressive way. Besides the singer changing some lyrics to sound “gay,” they handled the material so well that I was, well, blown the fuck away. I couldn’t believe how coincidental their playing and our shooting on the same day was for both parties. They ended up with some great photos and I ended up with another great experience.
SALT LAKE CITY:
Stefan took the first leg of the drive and made it until sunrise before I took over the driving duties. We were in the middle of this huge canyon. I was totally disoriented, and quickly realized that we were on a back road that was still more accommodating than most major access roads we’d been on for most of the drive.
Once behind the wheel it was 80-90mph the entire way to SLC via some of the most awesome landscape I’d seen up to this point. While desolate and a bit depressed, it was proven to me once again that the US has some of the most awesome empty space, public space, and we should visit it more frequently instead of sitting behind the television and complaining that there is nothing to do. Now I am not saying that everybody should write a book and go on tour, but just getting out to see the landscape does so much for ones mood. If you get it you feel an instant connection. If you don’t get it, well, then stay in the city and pretend like everything that you need to be healthy. It isn’t, but you can keep believing it. Go for it. Dude.
We were amazingly early for our SLC shoot and even from that early point I had this feeling that there wasn’t going to be a lot of folks coming out for this one. I am developing this weird premonition-system on nights when we should expect at most two or three tattooed folks to show up at a public event, and in general the ones that do REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want to be there. There stories are good and their enthusiasm for the project makes up for the ANTITHETICAL HIPSTER ATTITUDE that determines any project that is not “yours” to be unworthy of your collaboration. And, well, as we know hipsters don’t do much so they end up being a pretty reclusive bunch unless Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah makes their way to town. Or any event sponsored by PBR. Cannot forget PBR. Or can we…?
Anyway, Germ (a name given to our host by Darby Crash of the Germs back in the late 70’s) and his wife Shelly came to pick us up at NOBROW café and took us to their home in a northern suburb of SLC. After making some dinner (fish tacos), I set up a shoot with Jimi (who got his bars in prison, ironically) and Shelly, and then we all sat around and talked before going to bed.
Mind you, this would be the first night where Stefan and I were to sleep in a home, let along in beds, and allowed to sleep for as long as we wanted. I woke up, predictably, at around 7:30am to find that Shelly had given me a pair of hand-knitted gloves. We all got our things together and took off to shoot one more person (a lovely lady named Echo) at the café before hitting the road across eastern Utah and all of southern Wyoming.
Just moments from arriving in Denver it is hard to imagine that we will be breaking down at 10pm and driving all night just to arrive in Austin in time for our shoot at 7pm. Thankfully we have a day off before hitting up New Orleans, which I am looking quite forward to.